Confronting New Questions as Treatment Begins
Once your cancer treatment begins, you may encounter new questions related to the way you feel and look. These are common reactions, and ProMedica Cancer Institute experts can offer guidance.
Palliative care is care given to improve the quality of life of patients who have a serious or life-threatening disease, such as cancer. The goal of palliative care is to prevent or treat, as early as possible, the symptoms and side effects of the disease and its treatment, in addition to the related psychological, social, and spiritual problems. The goal is not to cure. Palliative care is also called comfort care, supportive care, and symptom management.
Ways to Manage Physical Changes
Some have described survivorship as being "disease-free, but not free of your disease." What you experience with your body may be related to the type of cancer you had and the treatment you received. It's important to remember that no two people are alike, so you may experience changes that are very different from someone else's, even if that person had the same type of cancer and treatment.
You may find that you are still coping with the effects of treatment on your body. It can take time to get over these effects. You may wonder how your body should feel during this time and what signs that cancer is coming back are. Some of the most common problems cancer patients report are:
- Memory and concentration changes
- Nervous system changes (neuropathy)
- Lymphedema, or swelling
- Mouth or teeth problems
- Changes in weight and eating habits
- Trouble swallowing
- Bladder or bowel control problems
- Menopause symptoms
How Your Body Changes
Cancer and cancer treatment may cause changes to the way you look, feel, and perform daily tasks. Some cancer treatments can cause temporary or permanent changes to your body, but not all treatments do. Some of the changes you may experience are listed below.
- Scars from surgery or loss of a body part
- Hair loss from radiation therapy or chemotherapy
- Weight loss or weight gain from the cancer or treatment
- Changes in your physical abilities, such as strength and endurance changes
What is follow-up cancer care, and why is it important?
Follow-up cancer care involves regular medical checkups that include a review of a patient’s medical history and a physical exam. Follow-up care may include imaging procedures (methods of producing pictures of areas inside the body), endoscopy (the use of a thin, lighted tube to examine the inside of the body), blood work, and other lab tests.
Follow-up care is important because it helps to identify changes in health. The purpose of follow-up care is to check for recurrence (the return of cancer in the primary site) or metastasis (the spread of cancer to another part of the body). Follow-up care visits are also important to help in the prevention or early detection of other types of cancer, address ongoing problems due to cancer or its treatment, and check for physical and psychosocial effects that may develop months to years after treatment ends. All cancer survivors should have follow-up care.
What should patients tell their doctor during follow-up visits?
During each visit, patients should tell their doctor about:
- Any symptoms that they think may be a sign that their cancer has returned
- Any pain that bothers them
- Any physical problems that interfere with daily life or are bothersome, such as fatigue; difficulty with bladder, bowel, or sexual function; difficulty concentrating; memory changes; trouble sleeping; and weight gain or loss
- Any medicines, vitamins, or herbs they are taking and any other treatments they are using
- Any emotional problems they are experiencing, such as anxiety or depression
- Any changes in their family medical history, including any new cancers
It is important to note that cancer recurrences are not always detected during follow-up visits. Many times, recurrences are suspected or found by patients themselves between scheduled checkups. It is important for patients to be aware of changes in their health and report any problems to their doctor. The doctor can determine whether the problems are related to the cancer, the treatment the patient received, or an unrelated health issue.
Cancer and cancer treatment often cause a variety of side effects. Talk with your doctor about which side effects are likely based on your specific treatment plan. An important part of cancer care is relieving side effects, called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care. It is important to talk with your health care team about the specific side effects you experience and the best ways to manage and treat them.